Fears Over Nerve Gas Waste
As you get closer to the area sometimes known as refinery row, you begin to notice jumpsuits, overalls and uniforms everywhere. People are getting out of their trucks at the gas station in them. They're walking through the lobby of your hotel in them. And they're leaving the local crab shack in them. They're different colors, with different logos. But you quickly become aware of the fact that this is oil country and these jobs are crucial to the local economy.
Driving near certain refineries and facilities, my producer and I were overwhelmed by bizarre odors at times. We were in the area to do a story on VX agent hydrolysate -- essentially a leftover substance from the compound commonly known as nerve gas -- and its incineration. Needless to say we sped up often.
It isn't just Oklahoma City or Tulsa. It's huge swaths of this state and at least three others thawing out from the ice storm over the weekend. People are staying warm with fires in their woodstoves, some are turning on their gas stoves (not advisable- there have been at least two carbon monoxide deaths in the state already) and kids are pulling out their sleeping bags for impromptu slumber parties at the home of their friend who has the most heat.
It's already day three and there are still close to a half million people here without their lights on. There are plans to combine multiple shelters into the Cox Center, and hopefully the response here will be faster than some of the other disasters I've covered.
It was my first "Friday Night Lights" experience. I'd never seen so much excitement over a high school football game. I'm pretty sure that the fans in the stands supporting the trinity Trojans for this non-playoff / relatively regular season game outnumbered some of the college games for my alma mater.
My memories of high school football were pretty tame in comparison. Most of the fans were either students who had friends playing or parents who had children playing. But in Texas, it's a different story. Some games are broadcast on local or regional sports channels; there are usually weekly high school football sports shows; and there is a tremendous amount of community support from alumni players who walk the sidelines, alumni in the stands and just people who live nearby and love to root for the school.
The Trojans have been doing the Haka for a few seasons now, and whether there is any correlation between the dance and their success, or it's just mere coincidence- one thing is certain: it certainly amps everything up. The fans seem to enjoy it as much as the players. I don't think it has the possibility of getting "old" – it's just a very short burst of incredibly intense energy that you can almost feel.
Jeffrey Weidenhamer comes across as a mild-mannered, matter-of-fact chemistry professor from Ashland University in Ohio, but get him started on the amount of lead in products on store shelves today, and you'll begin to hear a combination of the urgency, disappointment and frustration in his measured voice.
On top of the courses he teaches, he has been cajoling grad students and volunteers to come in on Saturdays and help him test for high levels of lead in the trinkets, metal jewelry and plastic toys that he finds all too readily available in the cheapest discount stores around him.
His sadness flows from the fact that his ad-hoc group is perhaps able to spend more time testing all these products than the Consumer Products Safety Commission — an agency which has been complaining to congress on its antiquated facilities, limited resources, low levels of staffing and inability to nab every dangerous product landing on U.S. shores.
The past few months have shined a harsh light on products from China and the amount of lead in the paint covering toys, paint that could slowly be ingested by the children playing with them and which could eventually lead to serious health problems or in rare cases- death. Wiedenhamer and his team haven't chosen to focus on products from China, but most of the products available at the stores that sell the cheapest goods (dollar stores, etc.) are from there. He has been looking at products which would most likely find their way into the hands and mouths of children.
Wiedenhamer's disappointment and frustration spring from what he says is the lack of "any explanation" for why some of his research is acknowledged with a recall and some is not. For example a few weeks ago, he sent in a complaint with detailed lab results on a three different Halloween products; a witch pail, a skull bucket and a Frankenstein cup all had high levels of lead in the paint- but only the witch pail was initially recalled.
Now, two days before Halloween, he has filed another complaint with the CPSC — and this time his focus has been the test results of three products after looking at almost three dozen different Halloween-themed toys. The ugly teeth — fake plastic fangs which children may place in their mouth — is his greatest concern because lead is ingested through the mouth much faster than through the skin. He also identifies two different types of Halloween baskets, which have lead levels far higher than allowable.
Perhaps this is an inevitability when you combine a bureaucracy which says it is overwhelmed in regulating the safety of all imports, a consumer that is addicted to falling prices at seemingly all costs, and a public that votes with their dollars and their ballots to maintain the status quo.
Mega-band Radiohead (which no longer has a record label) just dropped a bomb on the music industry in announcing that their music will be out in a few days and you can pay what you like for it.
While musicians have given away a track or two for free before, no band this big ever has done something as bold. You can preorder their box set for a hefty price, with liner notes, vinyl, pretty pictures etc., and it'll show up in your mailbox in December. Or, pay whatever you want to pay for the crystal clean and clear download. This is a band whose last album debuted at # 3 on the Billboard 200.
The frustration musicians are having with their labels continues to climb. Trent Reznor-- former front man for another mega-band Nine Inch Nails (who plan to split up) --encouraged people to download and use his music illegally when he was touring last month, after finding out what Universal was charging fans for his music in Australia.
Alternative models are emerging. Labels like Magnatune in Berkeley let you sample for free and pay any price between $5 and $18 for the whole album; it's up to you. And 50% of the cash goes straight to the artist -- no labels, lawyers, or overhead.
Jane Siberry of Vancouver is part of a handful of small artists who sell directly. She suggests a price, but lets you pay now, pay later, pay more or pay less -- and the site even keep stats on it. The average track sells for more than if it was priced on iTunes.
These nine were not the first to integrate schools. In fact, smaller towns in Arkansas like Charleston and Fayetville and Hoxie had done it successfully years before the now-famous showdown. There are even stories of white students in those towns escorting the black students in so there wouldn't be any trouble. However, it is the iconic images of these nine students, and the mobs outside, that are embedded into the history of the civil rights movement.
We are entering the last decade with a white majority in our nation's schools. It is already a fact in regions such as the south and the west, and perhaps adds urgency to an examination of what has happened to classrooms in terms of diversity and desegregation.
Usually when I'm doing weather stories somewhere along the Texas, Oklahoma corridor you can almost bet that I'll be in grown-up galoshes or hip waders. We've seen tremendous rainfall in the center of the United States, some continues in the Midwest. The opposite is the case in the southeast, where I have been working on a story on the droughts.
Larry Allen is a local hay and dairy farmer in McDonough Georgia. Point your car south from Hartsfield airport, toward Macon and then a series of left right zigzags over paved road and unpaved will get you to the center of his 400 or so acres, where his dairy cows masticate, and his hay isn't really growing. He has had about half the rain as normal, and he walked me down into what used to be a running creek- a source of water for his cattle. He has to borrow water from his neighbors, and pay county prices to be able to water the cows.
A little "did you know" that a city slicker like me picks up on stories like this is that a mamma cow or a bull can guzzle 15-25 gallons of water a day, and eat 2-4% of its body weight. That's a lot of water and a lot of hay or grass. Without much rain, both get very expensive.
Look at the number of counties in the southeast that have scorched earth and it is somewhere close to 98% of the region. States like Alabama and Georgia and Tennessee which are breaking records for consistently high temperatures have it perhaps the worst. There are people essentially praying for tropical storm level rains- because an inch or two is going to get cooked right off.
Southeast Seeks Some Rain
A climatologist we spoke to described drought as the Rodney Dangerfield of extreme events because it doesn't get any respect.
Kingfisher, Oklahoma is not used to the type of storm damage they're seeing. This is Tornado Alley, not Hurricane Lane. Meteorologists will tell you what a fluke it is that a tropical storm didn't just lose steam but gained a second wind 500 miles inland, four days after it made landfall.
The governor here has declared a state of emergency in 24 counties, perhaps the first step in receiving federal disaster aid. The magnitude or rarity of the weather yesterday will be small consolation to the families of the six dead due to the flash floods. Small consolation to the dozens of families who've had all their possessions caked with rust-colored mud as the flood waters recede.
Folks like David Rasmussen and his wife Jeri are likely going to leave. They've managed to grab all their pets -- dogs, cats, birds and a hamster -- and are salavaging what they can, but the water came up high enough to destory just about everything.
At least they're lucky enough to be able to get to their home today. Rhonda Gailbranch has to wait inch by inch as the water retreats. She moved here just a couple of months ago, was staying in a trailer on her yard while she remodeled her place. She's heard from rescue workers that there was more than five feet of water in her home when they passed by.
The waters are receding, and the sunshine baking the state is probably helping evaporate a bit off, but it'll be days, if not weeks, before life returns completely to normal.
There are lots of reasons that get people into financial trouble, which forces them to miss a mortgage payment, then two, then maybe three- before they get that letter in the mail from their mortgage lender turning their American dream of home ownership into a nightmare. There are expected to be more than a million foreclosures this year.
There are those Adjustable Rate Mortgages out there which, as their name implies, are adjusting. A lot of people took the up front savings, lured by the lower monthly payments, and ignored budgeting for the planned increase. Some people, who shouldn't have qualified for loans in the first place, were lured into bad deals by predatory lenders; others have just had unexpected financial hardships from medical expenses to divorce and death.
(If you are on the brink of foreclosures, check out these tips from the U.S. dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
To find a legitimate counseling service near you, that will likely work with you for free or a small administrative fee check out HUD or just call 1888-995-HOPE. Or check out Continue »
A left turn at an intersection, it can seem a bit complicated to a new driver; when to wait, when to proceed into the intersection, when to turn the wheels and when to go- well it certainly can seem more complicated to an old driver. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 40% of fatal crashes of drivers over 70 include hitting other drivers in intersections.
It was at an intersection that one of the central characters of our story, Katy Bolka, was killed. She was waiting at the intersection when an elderly driver who had run a red light rammed directly into her car. She was a gifted young teenager, and her parents decided to take on the cause of her death by drafting and getting the laws of Texas changed. Katy's Law, which will change the rules for how elderly drivers must renew their licenses, will take effect in September of this year.
The most interesting little nugget which I found in the story was how most seniors naturally reduce their driving as they perceive increased risk. Many don't drive at night, avoid freeways, and try not to go very far from home. But the one thing that has been proven to work in saving their lives and the lives of others is to require them to appear in person for a periodical exam. This was the conclusion of a study by the Journal of the American Medical Assocation in 2004. It works for several reasons. Most seniors who don't think they are going to pass the test simply choose to forfeit their license.
It's such a simple addition to a privilege, I'm surprised more states don't do it.